Moving On: The Expansion of the Family Network After Parents Separate

2004-FCY-9E

INTRODUCTION

This is the third of three reports that use longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) to examine the impact of parents' family transitions on children's family environment and economic well-being. These reports take a life course perspective on children's family experience, viewing it as a "process" evolving in response to decisions parents make about their own conjugal and parental life. From this perspective, parents are considered not as a unit but as two individuals whose paths meet for an undefined period of time, during which a child is conceived. The child's family life course depends on whether parents continue to follow the same path or go their separate ways.

The second report followed children from birth to the most common family transition: their parents' separation. However, separation may be just the first of many transitions; subsequently, the child's family life course is subject to decisions made separately by each parent. In this report, we explore what happens in children's family lives as separated mothers and fathers continue their conjugal and parental life courses, creating new family units.

Our approach also extends the study of the child's family environment beyond the residential group. With growing proportions of children spending a decreasing number of years in a family that includes both biological parents, close family members who play an important role in a child's life do not necessarily live in the same household. The NLSCY, a panel survey conducted jointly by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) and Statistics Canada, makes it possible to take this broader perspective. The retrospective "Family and Custody History" section of the NLSCY provides complete conjugal and parental histories of each child's biological parents, whether or not they live in the same household.

This report is divided into two main sections. The first section focusses on the expansion of children's family networks, estimating the probability that children will acquire new parent figures and stepsiblings or half-siblings as separated parents continue their family lives. In the second section, we link this information to children's perception of the parent figures in their lives. Parts of this study are concerned with the family life course these children live; these parts are based on information collected from the longitudinal sample of approximately 15,000 children included in the first two survey cycles, and aged between 2 and 13 years at Cycle 2, which was carried out in 1996–97. The analyses of children's perception of their "parents" are based on data collected at the third cycle in 1998–99 for children aged 10–15 years who completed the child-based questionnaire.


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